The president has been waging a week-long war to reopen the nation’s K-12 schools by September — no matter what the COVID-19 facts on the ground are. His reasoning appears to be this: If kids are back in school, life begins to look normal, and if life begins to look normal, then as president he might not be blamed for botching the nation’s response to the virus.
Luckily, Trump has little influence over the decisions being made by 50 governors, thousands of mayors, and individual school districts from coast to coast.
No doubt that’s a source of enormous frustration to the president, who continues to huff and puff and threaten to blow the public school system down — or at least cut off federal funds. But schools are almost entirely funded by states and localities. What’s he going to do, cut off the federal school lunch program? Surely even Trump’s a good enough politician to realize the political blowback from that.
There are, of course, lots of good reasons to get students of all ages back to school — if school functions can be done safely, including (as White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has mentioned) those meals provided through that federal lunch program. Remote learning is no substitute for the experience of being in a classroom, face to face with a teacher. And kids just simply need to be with their peers.
Having students in school at least part time will also free up parents to return to the workforce.
So yes, reopening schools would be a win, win, win — but only if it can be done safely. And reopening safely requires making use of all the scientific data at this nation’s disposal, and that data may well look different in different parts of the country.
Enter Donald Trump, with his ham-handed efforts either to ignore the science completely or bend it — and those in the administration who are its chief practitioners — to his will. Top of that list has been the marginalized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its school-reopening guidelines.
“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,” Trump tweeted this week. “While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”
Vice President Mike Pence followed up by saying, “The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough. And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”
CDC director Robert R. Redfield insisted later, “We’re totally aligned. We’re both trying to open the schools.”
The ever malleable Redfield said the agency would be issuing “additional reference documents” for parents and schools about the planned reopening during a pandemic but that they didn’t constitute a change in the overall guidance.
Returning some 56.6 million K-12 students to school — and doing it safely — over the next six weeks or so represents an enormous challenge, and with limited amounts of scientific data on the impact of the virus on young people.
Schools around the country — and right here in Boston — are looking at hybrid plans for some classroom instruction and some distance learning, providing room in schools for social distancing while making sure surfaces are as virus-free as possible. School districts around the country will have to be nimble about taking into consideration local infection spikes.
“It’s not going to be easy because we’ve never done it before,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “This is uncharted waters — always remembering the primary issue is the safety and welfare of the children as well as the teachers who are going to be interacting with the children.”
Ah, a voice of reason in a sea of White House-generated blather and misinformation.
Amid all the noise, one thing is clear: The nation’s children should not be pawns in anyone’s reelection campaign. What school districts, parents, teachers, and kids need now are trustworthy data and resources they can rely on during the rough road to reopening.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.